MARMOT’S NOTE: Just in case I haven’t made this perfectly clear—and I believe I have down below, but just in case—the fact that the shooter is Korean is, ultimately, irrelevant. He was a sick kid. Period. You can talk try to read into this tragedy cultural factors all you like (and I’m afraid that’s going to happen both in the United States and here in Korea), but the fact remains that there are 100,000 Korean students in the United States, not to mention about 1 million Korean-Americans, many of whom share the same cultural background as the shooter, and NONE of them have shot up their schools. The overwhelming majority, in fact, are upstanding members of their academic and residential communities. Cho Seung-hui is about as representative of the Korean community as the Columbine shooters were of the white community, that is to say, he’s not. In fact, if there is any group that seems “predisposed” to this sort of violence in the United States, it’s not foreign Asian students, it’s white males.
ORIGINAL POST: I don’t want to spread unconfirmed rumors, but seeing how the government is doing the leaking now, you might as well read it here—NoCut News, citing a diplomatic source, is reporting that the Korean embassy in Washington has told the Foreign Ministry that the shooter at Virginia Tech was a Korean student [NoCut News, Korean], and that it has asked the ministry to provide more details about him.
I’d prefer to wait until an official announcement before deciding to believe it or not.
UPDATE: Now the WaPo is saying federal and local officials are saying the shooter was “of Korean descent.”
UPDATE 2: The NYT is now reporting a name—Cho Seung-hui.
UPDATE 3: Now this from ABC (BTW, thanks to the commenters):
Seung Hui Cho, a permanent resident of the United States, a Korean national and a Virginia Tech student has been identified as the gunman in the shootings that left 33 people dead on the Virginia Tech campus Monday, ABC News has learned.
The student left a “disturbing note” before killing two people in a dorm room, returning to his own room to re-arm and entering a classroom building on the other side of campus to continue his rampage, sources said.
And this just in—Yonhap (Korean) is reporting that the shooter was Cho Seung-hui, a 23-year-old student of Korean ethnicity in the English lit department.
UPDATE 4: NoCut News is reporting that Korean students in the United States—and there are a lot of them [NACAC]—are in shock [NoCut News, Korean] after learning that the perpetrator of the worst school shooting in U.S. history was a Korean. Naturally enough, they are also worried about the repercussions this might have on them. At Virginia Tech alone, there are 160 Korean grad students and some 300 undergrads.
Korean authorities, meanwhile, are worried that the incident might cause diplomatic problems with the United States, and are concerned for the security of Koreans in the United States. In particular, NoCut News reports, Korean diplomatic authorities are worried that the incident will not only throw cold water on recently improving relations with Washington since the signing of the KORUS FTA, but also damage the international image of Koreans.
UPDATE 5: This, from the Metropolitician:
I’d been waiting for it.
The shooter is South Korean.
I’d been suspecting it all day, for a lot of reasons, which is why I was sitting by the computer. Not the least of which was because a group of American university administrators whom Fulbright hosted nearly 10 years ago, when being a tour of Korean universities, asked the staff, “Why is it that out of all our international students, Korean males have so much trouble?”
To my surprise, all of the university officials cited incident after incident of Korean male graduate students who seemed to have trouble adjusting, often got into fights with other students in the living spaces, and were often the source of trouble in dealing with romantic relationships gone bad or women in general, especially when they involved Korean females dating non-Koreans.
Anyway, my little bit of uninformed analysis will be just the beginning. I’m sure we’ll see all sorts of explanations from the Korean media. And for what it’s worth, perhaps now the South Korean media and people will be faced with the question of stereotyping, media, and how treating individual incidents as evidence of various “national characters” leads down roads we don’t want to travel.
All in all, a tragic story. But the conversation will prove…interesting, I’m sure.
Let the shitstorm – and social experiment – begin.
UPDATE 6: Cho had been living in the United States since the age of 3 [IHT]. He was a permanent resident, but still a Korean citizen.
UPDATE 7: I should also point out that at least one of the injured was a Korean [Marmot’s Hole], and Yonhap (Korean) is reporting that one of the dead might be a Korean (or at least ethnic Korean) as well.
I hate to go into motives, but since Michael alluded to the problem above, and other commenters [Foreign Dispatches] are already touching the theme, I should point out—before we go to far with the “Angry Korean Man pissed off that his Korean girlfriend was banging whity” meme—that the girl killed in the dorm (whom, I’ve been led to believe from reports, was the girlfriend he quarreled with) had a very non-Asian name. I’m going to wait before I start proposing any theories as to why what happened happened. Until I see proof otherwise, I’m going to avoid explaining this tragedy culturally. He could have very well simply been a fucked-up kid with a gun. Can’t get any more American than that.
UPDATE 8: Again, to demonstrate my point above [This is London]. Of course, the relationships have yet to be confirmed.
UPDATE 9: Cho is being described as a loner [Yonhap, Korean]—his seeming lack of friends is making it difficult for investigators to ascertain his motive. A Virginia Tech spokesman described him as “a loner,” and Korean students at the school say he hardly came to Korean student gatherings. In fact, they say they didn’t really know who he was.
UPDATE 10: The Chosun Ilbo (Korean) reports on the “netizen response,” or at least how it sees it. The general tone is disbelief. One netizen quoted by the paper said, “The name is similar to a Chinese one, so let’s wait until the final police announcement. Another said, “I’m so surprised that a Korean could do something so cruel I don’t believe it… I wonder if the investigation results are mistaken, so we have to keep watching.”
Korean netizens in the United States, meanwhile, are concerned that this may adversely affect Korean students in the country. One even said he was afraid to go to school tomorrow. Another said that just as all Middle Easterners were disadvantaged after Sept 11, the image of Koreans would take a massive hit as a result of the incident. One netizens said he feared for the safety of Koreans studying in the United States, and expressed concern about the possibility of a U.S. boycott of Korean goods.
Netizens preparing to study in the United States were also concerned. One wrote that visa requirements for students would grow even stricter, while another worried that the incident would affect Korea’s efforts to get into the U.S. visa waiver program.
UPDATE 11: NoCut News (Korean) is a bit, well, saddened by the headlines of much of the world press. Not that it’s complaining—it’s more ashamed if anything. The Korean press shouldn’t expect a ton of sympathy on this issue, however—we needn’t go back and look at the headlines Korean papers have run each and every time a foreigner f*cks up in this country.
UPDATE 12: Yonhap News (Korean) talks about the inability of many Koreans who immigrate abroad to study at a young age to adjust due to linguistic and cultural differences. According to one Korean who spent his middle and high school years abroad, they receive a lot of stress in overcoming the language barrier so they don’t fall behind in school, and some of them end up fighting a lot and doing drugs. Meanwhile, of those busted in Korea for smuggling and using drugs, Koreans who studied at U.S. universities and Korean-American university students are overrepresented vis-a-vis Korean university students. Others point out, however, that one shouldn’t generalize. Jo Yeong-dal, the dean of Seoul National University Law School, said shooter Cho had been in the United States since the second grade, i.e., he spent his developmental years and socialization years in the country, and that he might have had family problems. He added, however, that despite it being a multicultural society, the United States is still primarily a white society, and Cho might have had an inferiority complex that manifested itself in a hate for white people. Korea should learn a lesson from this, he said, and begin preparing for its transformation into a multicultural society.
Marmot’s Note: Like I said, until I see something different, I don’t want to make this a cultural/social issue. There are 100,000 Koreans studying in the United States, and except for Cho, none of them—as far as I know—have shot up their schools.
UPDATE 13: The Chicago Tribune talks a little bit about the note Cho left behind:
The suspected gunman in the Virginia Tech shooting rampage, Cho Seung-Hui, was a troubled 23-year-old senior from South Korea who investigators believe left an invective-filled note in his dorm room, sources say.
The note included a rambling list of grievances, according to sources. They said Cho also died with the words “Ismail Ax” in red ink on the inside of one of his arms.
Cho had shown recent signs of violent, aberrant behavior, according to an investigative source, including setting a fire in a dorm room and allegedly stalking some women.
A note believed to have been written by Cho was found in his dorm room that railed against “rich kids,” “debauchery” and “deceitful charlatans” on campus.
We’ll no doubt learn more in the coming days.
UPDATE 14: Over at Salon, Andrew Leonard posts some excellent advice:
Another fact provided by the Marmot’s Hole (Hey, that’s me!): According to one report, Korea has more students studying abroad in the U.S. than any other country: 100,000. Debbie Schlussel thinks that the foreign residency of Cho Seung-hui is “yet another reason to stop letting in so many foreign students.” But 99.999 percent of those 100,000 Koreans somehow managed not to engage in mass killing sprees. My advice to the Korean blogosphere — despite all the cultural hypothesizing that is about to swarm the mediasphere — is to strive to stay calm. Jealous rage knows no borders.
As I note in his comment section, however, the cultural hypothesizing won’t be limited to the United States, unfortunately—there will be plenty of that going on over here, too, both in the self-critical way (i.e., the stress on young children sent abroad to study at a young age) and in a not-so-self-critical way (i.e., See, another Korean corrupted by the evil ways of the West and/or White racism made him do it).
UPDATE 15: As you’d might expect, Michael has a monster post up at Metropolitician. Go read it.
UPDATE 16: Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and Foreign Minister Song Min-soon have offered their condolences to the American people.
UPDATE 17: YTN (Korean) reports that one of the dead, a female university student, was half-Korean and born in Korea. Condolences to her family and to all the families who lost loved ones in yesterday’s tragedy.